The most interesting thing about Palberta’s new album Palberta5000 is most certainly the transformation of this New York City trio from relentlessly noisy, DIY post-punk heroes into an archetypal indie-pop band, albeit one with a backburnered proclivity for chaos and razor-sharp edges framing its soft, sweet center.
But the most amazing thing about Palberta5000 is that Palberta—Ani Ivry-Block, Lily Konigsberg and Nina Ryser, who are known to take turns on bass, drums and guitar—effectively captured that transformation in a four-day recording session at the Hudson Valley studio of engineer Matt Labozza, who also worked on the Philly band Palm’s 2018 art-rock banger Rock Island.
Four days! In just four days, Palberta made the biggest leap of its already productive and distinctive life, and turned out an album that both honors the band’s past and turns a corner toward a bright future.
That’s incredible. And it’s no doubt a testament to the evolving vision and tightening skills of Ivry-Block, Konigsberg and Ryser. On Palberta’s first four full-lengths, released from 2013 to 2018, the band’s songs were enjoyable grab bags of tuneless yelps and speak-singing, dissonant guitars, unruly rhythms, groaning horns and, occasionally, the vague shape of a groove or a glimpse of a vocal harmony. It was the clarity and force with which they arranged those elements that set them apart from their more forgettable contemporaries.
On Palberta5000, the clarity and force remain, but the musical components are more conventional, and the effect is thrilling. Opening track “No Way” quickly establishes a rubbery indie-rock gait and spends its second half locked into a series of vocal harmonies that recall the cult-fave (and recently reunited) alt-pop band That Dog. “Fragile Place” juxtaposes delicate vocals with a downhill instrumental attack that’s heavy but disciplined. And “Big Bad Want” crystallizes Palberta’s dance-punk influence, where previous efforts came off more like a pile of dance-punk ingredients: bouncing bass line, call-and-response shouts, manic energy, repetition.
Elsewhere, Ivry-Block, Konigsberg and Ryser reveal they’ve also gotten better at going slow. Rhythmically, “Red Antz” is a bit shifty, but overall, the song’s breezy vibe reflects its lyrical allusions to leaving troubles behind, while “The Way That You Do” bookends a short, funky breakdown with two long, leisurely sections of post-punk waltz and Palberta5000’s prettiest vocal performance. “The way that you do,” the women sing, like a choir of angels in jorts and deadpan stares, “fuckin’ around my cue.” (Whatever that means.)
Those slower songs are two highlights of the album’s impressive second half, which finds Palberta growing more comfortable in its new form. With its earworm melody and insistent crunch, “Summer Sun” could pass for a long-lost outtake from Rose Melberg’s first band, Tiger Trap (or anything on K Records circa 1993, really), and “Something In The Way” pairs the trio’s most confident harmonies with a brand of burbling, hyperactive rock that sounds like someone roughed up the underappreciated math-pop band Pinback. Both offer relatively concrete narratives for Palberta, too. The latter is a commentary on the “manufactured dream” of consumerism, and the former’s a love song that squeezes plenty of authentic pain into its 89-second run time: “I’m on my bedroom floor and I don’t know what to do,” goes the chorus. “All that I know is that I’m starting to cry and I can’t be without you.”
In recent interviews, Ivry-Block, Konigsberg and Ryser have cited pop giants like Ariana Grande and Rihanna as influences, and sharp ears may hear a sliver of Justin Timberlake’s “What Goes Around…” echoing through Palberta5000’s galloping final track, “Before I Got Here.” But it’s hard to imagine Palberta topping the Billboard Hot 100 chart anytime soon.
What’s not hard to imagine is the band using Palberta5000 as a stepping stone from beloved East Coast jumble-punks to world-class indie-pop-rock band. They are clearly capable of either. Or both. Or anything, probably.
Ben Salmon is a committed night owl with an undying devotion to discovering new music. He lives in the great state of Oregon, where he hosts a killer radio show and obsesses about Kentucky basketball from afar. Ben has been writing about music for more than two decades, sometimes for websites you’ve heard of but more often for alt-weekly papers in cities across the country. Follow him on Twitter at @bcsalmon.